Virginia Ramey Mollenkott celebrated her 75th birthday a few days ago. You may or may not know Virginia, but the odds are if you're reading this blog, your life has been touched by her work.
In 1978, Virginia Mollenkott co-authored (with Letha Dawson Scanzoni) the book Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? A Postive Christisan Response. God alone knows how many queer lives she saved with that book, which is still on the shelves, revised and re-isued, after 19 years. Yow!
I first ran into this handsome butch spiritual lesbian about ten years ago when we met at the now defunct A Different Light LGBT bookstore in New York City. Virginia has written 13 books, but my favorite remains Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach, in which she debunks the myth of religious "truth" of two and two only genders, and she does this religion by religion. It's amazing work.
Mollenkott served as Stylistic Consultant for the New International Version of the Bible, and as a member of the National Council of Churches' Inclusive Language Lectionary Committee, coming out to the NCC convention in support of the Metropolitan Community Church's application for membership. She has guest lectured at hundreds of universities, church conferences and seminaries, and testified on behalf of the New Jersey anti-discrimination law, receiving a l992 Achievement Award from the NJ Lesbian and Gay Coalition. In 1999, SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment) presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work of combating heterosexism in religion.
Mollenkott has served as Board Member for various GLBT-friendly organizations, including Evangelicals Concerned, The Center for Sexuality and Religion, and Kirkridge Retreat Center, where for many years has led several GLBT events annually. She is a founding member of the GLBT-inclusive Evangelical and Ecumenical Women's Caucus.
Among her twelve books, the most explicitly lesbian is Sensuous Spirituality: Out From Fundamentalism, although lesbians have also enjoyed The Divine Feminine: Biblical Imagery of God as Female. Her most recent and most radical work, Omnigender: A TransReligious Approach, won the 2002 Lambda Literary Award in the bisexual/transgender category.
(This biographical statement provided by Virginia Mollenkott.)
One of the major blocks to going through with my gender change was my fear of God's wrath. It makes sense—I'm a Jew, and we believe that God can be mighty wrathful when He wants to be—no matter that wrath is a deadly sin.
I left religion behind me, and embraced atheism as a spiritual path.
Many transgender people do that: when our religious leaders tell us how angry God is going to be with us for messing with our God-given genders, we turn away from God. And we eventually reach a point of unbearable loneliness and inconsolable grief, with no God to comfort us. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott is the first person to address our spiritual conundrum. She is the first person to return us to God's comfort and wisdom.
In her ground-breaking book, Omnigender, a trans-religious approach, Virginia teaches that the origin of trans oppression found in Deuteronomy comes down to the old Jewish love of binaries, and their abhorrence of incompatibility.
Men do one thing, women do another. They can't be mixed up. According to old Jewish ways of thinking, when you add femaleness to maleness, you pollute maleness and confuse the accepted bipolar gender system. That’s a double bind: first, it implies that femaleness is polluting, and second, it plays on the fact that Jews despise confusion. It’s why we’re always think-think-thinking!
Virginia's answer to the paranoia of Deuteronomy is this, from Omnigender:
“Any sincerely religious person who believes that women and men are equally created in God's image should think twice before invoking biblical prohibitions against cross-dressing and same-sex love. Because these prohibitions are associated with the attitude that femaleness is a pollutant, they have no place within a democratic and fair-minded society, let alone in a contemporary church, synagogue, or mosque.”
Virginia taught us that God—like gender—has many faces, and that none of His true faces are wrathful or transphobic. By painstakingly tracing the roots of trans prohibition in religions, Virginia has built us a bridge that connects postmodern theory and political activism with spirituality. That's never been done before.
Today, touring around to colleges and universities, I'm seeing more and more young trans students who are majoring in Religious Studies. Each and very one of them I spoke told me that Virginia Mollenkott was a major inspiration for their wish to ma
ke spirituality and religion a more integral and accessible part of the transgender experience.
Why might Dr. Mollenkott be so successful at reaching out to trannies? Well, one reason Virginia's work is so popular amongst trannies is that Virginia makes it okay to be religious and sexy at the same time. I mean, just look at this sexy, handsome woman (who just happens to be one of the finest flirts I know!)Thanks to Virginia Mollenkott, religion hasn't been this sexy or this much fun since the days of temple prostitutes!
In closing—before coming to this gathering this evening, I posted on Twitter that I was writing my talking points on Virginia's impact on the trans world. Within minutes of my post, I received this response from Natasha:
"Thank you for introducing me to Virginia Mollenkott. Ya gotta love anyone who can get the theocrats panties in a twist!"
She’s right. We do love you, Virginia Mollenkott. We do love you.
My friend Virginia Ramey Mollenkott was speaking as was Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, Moderator and spiritual leader of Metropolitan Community Church, my ministry home. I was privileged to spend some time with my friend and mentor Virginia and her partner. And I was able to enjoy Nancy and her assistant Connie's company as well. Great lectures, wonderful music including a concert by folk singer Carrie Newcomer, a closing worship service that really grounded me in a way that was very helpful.
I've been slow to join EEWC (EEWC Website) and slower to attend their conferences and read their GREAT newsletter Christian Feminism Today. So learn from my mistakes whether you're male or female identified and join this great organization. These people, women and men, have something special going on. You won't find me missing from one of their conferences again!
Wikipedia Article. More at the link.
Virginia Ramey Mollenkott spent her 44 year professional career teaching college level English literature and language, but developed specializations in feminist theology and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender theology during the second half of that career.
She was born in Philadelphia's Temple University Hospital on January 28, 1932; married Frederick H. Mollenkott on June 17, 1954; had a son, Paul F. Mollenkott, on July 3, 1958; and was divorced in July of 1973. She earned her B.A. from fundamentalist Bob Jones University in 1953; her M.A. at Temple University in 1955; her Ph.D. at New York University in 1964; and received an honorary Doctorate in Ministries from Samaritan College in 1989. She chaired the English Department at Shelton College, Ringwood, New Jersey, from 1955-1963 and at Nyack College, Nyack, New York, from 1963-1967. She then taught at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey from 1967 to 1997, chairing the English Department from 1972-1976 and since 1997 holding the position of Professor of English Emeritus.
Dr. Mollenkott served as an assistant editor of Seventeenth Century News from 1965-1975; as a stylistic consultant for the New International Version of the Bible for the American Bible Society from 1970-1978; as a member of the translation committee for An Inclusive Language Lectionary for the National Council of Churches from 1980-1988; on the Board of Pacem in Terris, Warwick, New York, from 1980-1990; on the Board of the Upper Room AIDS Ministry, Harlem, New York, from 1989-1994; on the Board of Kirkridge Retreat and Conference Center, Bangor, PA, from 1980-1991; on the Advisory Board of the Program on Gender and Society at the Rochester (New York) Divinity School from 1993-1996; as a manuscript evaluator for the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion from 1994 to the present; as a contributing editor to The Witness from 1994 to 2000; and as a contributing editor to The Other Side from 2003-2007. She has delivered hundreds of guest lectures on feminist and LGBT theologies at churches, conferences, universities and seminaries throughout the United States.
Mollenkott's books include Adamant and Stone Chips, 1967; In Search of Balance, 1969; Women, Men and the Bible, 1977 (revised and updated in 1988; Korean translation in 1981); Speech, Silence Action, 1980; Is the Homosexual My Neighbor: A Positive Christian Response, 1978 (with Letha Dawson Scanzoni; revised and updated in 1994; won the Integrity Award, 1979); The Divine Feminine: Biblical Imagery of God as Female, 1983 (published in German, 1985; in French, 1990; and in Italian, 1993); Views from the Intersection, 1984 (with Catherine Barry); Godding; Human Responsibility and the Bible, 1987; Sensuous Spirituality: Out from Fundamentalism, 1982 (revised and expanded, 2008); Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach, 2001 (revised and updated, 2007; won the Lambda Literary Award, 2002; and the Ben Franklin Award, 2002); and Transgender Journeys, 2003 (with Vanessa Sheridan).
Dr. Mollenkott also edited a book of spiritual poems, Adam Among the Television Trees, 1971; and a volume of inter-religious dialogue, Women of Faith in Dialogue, 1987. Since 1997 she has served on the editorial board of Studies in Theology and Sexuality, based in the United Kingdom.
In 1992 Dr. Mollenkott received the New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Achievement Award, and in 1999 was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment).
She has been a lifetime member of the Modern Language Association, where she served on the Executive Committee of Religion and Literature from 1976-1980; and a lifetime member of the Milton Society of America, serving on the executive committee from 1974-1976. She has published dozens of articles in scholarly and literary journals as well as church-related publications, and is an active founding member of the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women's Caucus, better known as Christian Feminism Today.
A Democrat and trans-religious Christian, Dr. Mollenkott lives with her domestic partner Judith Suzannah Tilton at Cedar Crest Retirement Village; together they co-grandmother Virginia's three granddaughters. Dr. Mollenkott's archives are available at The Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies at the Pacific School of Religion.
Important LinksEEWC - Christian Feminism Today
LGBT Religious Archives Network
Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies in Religion and Ministry
Christian Lesbians OUT
Sodomy and the NIV
The following readings compare the KJB and the NIV in several areas where sodomy or homosexual behavior is mentioned. Going over these, it is easy to see that sodomy was never considered as a viable concept in the NIV and homosexuality was presented from Dr. Mollenkott's viewpoint. The comments of Dr. Mollenkott are from her book, Is The Homosexual My Neighbor? (abbreviated as ITHMN)
Genesis 19:5 - The sin of SodomKJB - And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, where are the men which came into thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.
NIV - They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out so that we can have sex with them."
Mollenkott, ITHMN, Page 57 - "... the Sodom story seems to be focusing on two specific evils: (1) violent gang rape and (2) inhospitality to the stranger."
Leviticus 18:22 - SodomyKJB - Thou shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.
NIV - Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman: that is detestable.
(Author's note: There is quite a degree of difference between the meaning of the words, abomination and detestable.)
Leviticus 20:13 - SodomyKJB - If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death: their blood shall be upon them.
NIV - If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them has done what is detestable. They must be put to death: their blood will be on their own heads.
Mollenkott, ITHMN, Pages 110 through 121 - "Dr. Mollenkott argues that this is part of the ceremonial laws, and as such, are to be disregarded by the Christian. She places this act on the same level as wearing clothes of two different materials."
Deuteronomy 23:17 - SodomiteKJB - There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.
NIV - No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute.
Judges 19:22 - SodomyKJB - Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him.
NIV - While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, "Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him."
Mollenkott, ITHMN, Page 57 - "Violence - forcing sexual activity upon another - is the real point to this story."
I Kings 14:24 - SodomitesKJB - And there were sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel.
NIV - There were even male shrine prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.
I Kings 15:12 - SodomitesKJB - And he took away the sodomites out of the land and removed all the idols that his fathers had made.
NIV - He expelled all the shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of the idols his fathers had made.
I Kings 22:46 - SodomitesKJB - And the remnant of the sodomites, which remained in the days of his father Asa, he took out of the land.
NIV - He rid the land of the rest of the shrine prostitutes who remained there even after the reign of his father Asa.
II Kings 23:7 - SodomitesKJB - And he brake down the houses of the sodomites, that were by the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the grove.
NIV - He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes, which were in the temple of the Lord and where women did weaving for Asherah.
Mollenkott, ITHMN, Page 59 & 60 - "Most scholars agree that in the fertility religions of Israel's neighbors, male cult prostitutes were employed for homosexual acts. The people who loved and served the God of Israel were strictly forbidden to have anything to do with such idolatry, and the Jewish men were commanded to never serve as temple prostitutes."
(Author's note: Clearly a male could be a shrine prostitute and not be a homosexual, but according to the dictionary a Sodomite is a homosexual.)
Matthew 11:24 - Judgment upon SodomKJB - But I say unto you, That it shall be more
tolerable for the land of Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for thee.
NIV - But I tell you it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.
Luke 10:12 - Judgment upon SodomKJB - But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city.
NIV - I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for you.
Mollenkott, ITHMN, Page 59-"Jesus refers to Sodom, not in the context of sexual acts, but in the contents of inhospitality." And on Page 71, she expands this thought with the idea of a life long homosexual orientation or 'condition' is never mentioned in the Bible."
Romans 1:26 & 27 - HomosexualityKJB - For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections; for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And like wise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in lust one toward another; man with men working that which is unseemingly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.
NIV - Because of this, God gave him over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.
Mollenkott, ITHMN, Page 62 - "The key thought here seems to be lust, 'unnaturalness,' and, in verse 28, a desire to avoid the acknowledgment of God. But although the censure fits idolatrous people with whom Paul was concerned here, it does not seem to fit the case of a sincere homosexual Christian. Such a person loves Jesus Christ and wants above all to acknowledge God in all of life, yet for some unknown reason feels drawn to someone of the same sex, for the sake of love rather than lust. Is it fair to describe that person as lustful or desirous of forgetting God's existence?"
I Corinthians 6:9 - Rejection of homosexual behaviorKJB - Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.
NIV - Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolators nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders.
A note here to point out that this is the only place in the NIV where the word "homosexual" occurs. It is not clear from the context if this means heterosexuals who abuse homosexuals or homosexuals who abuse each other. See Dr. Mollenkott's explanation in the 1st Timothy comments following.
I Timothy 1:9 & 10KJB - Knowing this, that the law is not made for righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers. For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for manstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.
NIV - We also know that law is not made for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murders, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.
Mollenkott, ITHMN, Page 67 - "Interpretations of these passages depends on two Greek words used in I Cor. 6:9 which have presented a problem for translators in the King James Version, they translated 'effeminate' and 'abusers of themselves with mankind.' In the Revised Standard Version of 1952, they were combined and rendered simply 'homosexuals,' which implied that all persons whose erotic interests were oriented to the same sex were by the very fact excluded from membership in the kingdom of God. But the original intent seems to have been to single out specific kinds of same-sex practices which were deplorable."
Jude 7 - Strange fleshKJB - Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
NIV - In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
Mollenkott, ITHMN, Page 59 - "The unnatural lust" thus could, in the context, and in view of the apocryphal texts to which Jude made allusion, refer to a desire for sexual contact between human and heavenly beings.î
It would not be fair to say that all the people involved in producing the NIV favored homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle, but it is fair to say that those who were responsible for the final wordings were at least sympathetic to Dr. Mollenkott's cause. One only has to look at the treatment of sodomy in the NIV to reach this conclusion.
While many believe practicing homosexuals can be Christian, there are many others who have a different conviction about what the Bible says about sodomy. For this group, it is hardly acceptable to call Sodomites temple prostitutes, or to think of same-sex relationships as natural. These same people would take a viewpoint that God hates the sin of homosexuality and will bring judgment on those who live this kind of lifestyle.
The information presented here is not all-inclusive, but is intended to sound an alarm. If the NIV is your Bible of choice, it would be prudent to look closely in other areas as well, for there are many other subjects handled just as loosely as sodomy. Don't take anyone's word for what God says; Check it out! After all, He'll hold you alone responsible.